Community Assessment of Downtown

The Community Assessment is a critical step in understanding the Cheyenne area’s position and the issues that it faces in an increasingly competitive environment for new jobs, talent, and corporate investment. Below is just a segment from the full Community Assessment report.

DOWNTOWN CHEYENNE: A CATALYST FOR THE COMMUNITY’S VISION

The preceding chapters of this Assessment have articulated the community’s vision for the future and explored a variety of attributes from talent attraction and retention, to quality of life, to entrepreneurship, that both reflect and influence the community’s ability to achieve this vision. Residents wish to see a more modern and vibrant community that effectively attracts and retains young people while also maintaining an appreciation and value for the community’s history and heritage. At the heart of this vision is Downtown Cheyenne. Without question, its revitalization is residents’ biggest priority with respect to their vision for the community’s future.

The interest in investing in downtown is consistent with what Market Street has seen in communities around the country; in nearly every recent client community, residents are yearning for better downtowns, and communities and markets alike are responding. A vibrant downtown offers residents and families of all ages and backgrounds a gathering place and an economic and social center of gravity – a destination for shops, restaurants, and other businesses, and a place where people can socialize. Focusing on the built environment and amenities in a concentrated district area can also support the flexibility that Greater Cheyenne may need in accommodating disparate viewpoints regarding the community’s development path. Specifically, those who want such activity can access this environment without driving to Colorado, while those who prefer the widespread ranch lifestyle with limited density can avoid this section of town. Stakeholders suggested that such a center could serve as a quality of life amenity for the entire community—not only to attract new residents, but to also retain existing residents and give them an alternative to traveling to Fort Collins and other Colorado communities to have fun. One survey respondent commented that the community should “develop the downtown more...make it a destination so people don’t go to Fort Collins and Denver for dinner or night life options.” In addition, downtown redevelopment would give workers who commute from other communities a reason to stay after work and circulate their dollars locally. In addition, stakeholders believe that those workers may be more likely to choose Cheyenne as a place to live in the future. Additionally, catalyzing housing development downtown by finding solutions to issues common to historical, aging building, would provide housing options to young professionals and empty nesters who do not want a lot of space or a yard. A few stakeholders stated that they were disappointed when looking for housing as they were looking specifically for rental units in the downtown area, but could not find this option.

With the adage of “business follows people,” this quality of life feature is more than just a nice amenity for residents, it’s an important factor that ultimately impacts a region’s economic success. Stakeholders believe that there is an opportunity to focus on small business development within downtown by exploring creative ways to spur private investments while solving long-standing problems. For example, more than one stakeholder suggested designing a creative incentive program that would match small business owners and entrepreneurs with vacant spaces. Others suggested that a business incubator be located downtown.

Stakeholders familiar with issues impacting downtown development identified multiple issues that, if addressed, could further the area’s progress. These include addressing building codes that make redeveloping older structures a challenge, updating streetscapes, extending broadband infrastructure, addressing parking concerns, and updating the city’s liquor laws. One stakeholder stated, “You can go to another city, like Fort Collins, and go from bar to bar, but here, it’s hard to even get someone to open a restaurant because there’s a low chance of being able to get a liquor license. Here, you choose a restaurant, then go home because there’s nothing to do around it.” Generally, input participants said redevelopment issues are not uncommon in historic downtowns, but addressing them requires intentionality. Others suggested that organizational inefficiencies – notably multiple organizations trying to steer downtown revitalization in an uncoordinated manner – was a barrier to advancing progress efficiently and effectively.

Plans underway include the Downtown Cheyenne Development Authority (DDA) Strategic Plan, Cheyenne Metropolitan Planning Organization’s PlanCheyenne (the city’s master plan) and Downtown Strategic Parking Plan, the Cheyenne West Edge Planning Initiative, and the Downtown Core Plan created by DDA, Tour 23, Visit Cheyenne, the Chamber, and Cheyenne LEADS. The DDA plan has four goals: promote a strong sense of place through design and planning, create a climate of support and foster new and existing business and property owners, make Downtown Cheyenne the desired destination, and create a downtown residential community. While stakeholders note that DDA and other partners have made progress, respondents would like to see downtown cleaned up and more business activity, and they commented frequently about their frustration with the lack of momentum and by the seeming lack of support for downtown revitalization.

PlanCheyenne was updated in 2014, and “a vital downtown that includes unique businesses, a range of housing and attractive gathering places” was among the components of the community’s vision of what Cheyenne should be in the future. The plan includes actions for revitalizing the district while also preserving its historical assets. The parking plan was developed in May 2016 and provides 11 key recommendations that support the development of holistic public parking that advance the city’s economic and community development goals. The West Edge plan, which garnered mixed reviews by community stakeholders, is intended to be a catalyst to downtown revitalization. Immediately west of Downtown Cheyenne, West Edge is a historic district with several brownfield sites. The plan lays out steps to pursue reuse of these properties while promoting reinvestment. Some stakeholders are in support of the plan’s implementation, while others felt that prioritization of West Edge development could unnecessarily inhibit the flow of resources to support revitalization of the core downtown. Finally, the Downtown Core plan focuses on four areas: lighting, cleanup and code enforcement, installation of features such as wayfinding signs and the ice rink that citizens enjoy in Depot Plaza, and supporting business retention. The plan identifies which organizations should work together on these items, but again, stakeholders express frustration that greater coordination is need.

A thriving and more vibrant Downtown Cheyenne is not only a critical input to the community’s success in achieving its vision but also a key outcome of its economic development efforts.

Rachel Girt